In honor of the recently released to theaters Monsters University, I thought it would be fun to look back on the feature-length films put out by Pixar Animation Studios (in conjunction with Disney) and come up with a top 10. This proved to be a pretty difficult task and I consider this list, especially the top 5, to be quite fluid. Pixar has really eclipsed Disney as the premier creator of animated films. It could be argued that before it, Japan’s Studio Ghibli had knocked Disney off the top of the mountain but Pixar now stands tall over all. And while their output has dwindled in quality just a tad bit lately, it seems like the studio is likely to maintain that status for at least a few more years. This list is not going to give each film the space it deserves, or else it would run into the tens of thousands of words. I also want to add that I do not think Pixar has made a bad film yet, though I also have not seen Cars 2 which has been the worst reviewed film put out by the studio. I didn’t see it because I didn’t really care for the original, though I didn’t hate it or anything. I also did see Monsters University this weekend, and while I don’t think it makes their top 10, it was enjoyable entertainment.
Brave is hindered by that fact that it’s one of the more recent films put out by Pixar so it hasn’t had as long of a time to leave a lasting impression (and as you can imagine, nostalgia points count). Brave is a refreshing take on the princess genre and Merida is a very likable and easy to root for character. The visuals are splendid and the conflict unique, though the setting and style is perhaps a bit too similar to the previously released Dreamworks film How to Train Your Dragon. This is a film I plan to revisit and I expect my appreciation for it will only grow from here.
9. The Incredibles
Perhaps a controversial selection as I know The Incredibles is a favorite for many. For me, I absolutely love the concept of a super hero family and this was probably my most eagerly anticipated work from Pixar. Perhaps it was the weight of expectations that resulted in my initial disappointment. It just didn’t resonate with me the way I thought it would. I very much enjoyed the Mr. Incredible character, but the rest of the family didn’t appeal to me as much. The film is also a little overstuffed and could have used some trimming. Every time I re-watch it I wonder if this is the viewing that will make me fall in love with it, but so far that hasn’t happened. Despite that, I still look forward to the eventual sequel and will continue to enjoy the in-jokes thrown at comic book fans.
8. Toy Story 2
Toy Story was such a smashing success that it made sense for a sequel to follow. Because these films take so long, Pixar first released A Bug’s Life before getting to Toy Story 2. Serving as director for all three feature-length films was John Lasseter, who wisely realized he couldn’t expect to continue to direct everything put out by the studio. Toy Story 2 is an excellent sequel that contains enough of what made the original so memorable without feeling like a re-tread. Visually, it is far superior to the first. Some people seem to prefer it to the original, but for me I enjoyed the plot from the first one more and found the end chase more thrilling than the sequence that closes out this one. This one is still great though, and Jessie’s song is really well done, making Toy Story one of the best franchises in recent memory.
This where the list starts getting hard for me. I didn’t have much trouble ranking the first three, but now we’re getting into the films I truly love. Ratatouille is a clever tale about a rat named Remy, who is one of the most well-crafted of any of Pixar’s leads. He’s interesting, flawed, likable, and well-acted by the animators and voice actor Patton Oswalt. This one isn’t as emotionally heavy as some of Pixar’s other films, but it is so much fun and it’s still a treat to experience all of Remy’s highs and lows. I feel like I could watch this film every day and not get sick of it.
6. Toy Story
The one that started it all. Toy Story was a marvel when it was first released in 1995. At that time, no one really thought computer generated images could captivate in the same way as hand-drawn animation and we were all proved wrong. While I will always prefer more traditional animation, I both love and appreciate what today’s artists are capable of with CGi. Toy Story doesn’t look as good now as it did back then (especially the dog and human characters), but that doesn’t detract from the wonderful and clever story about what goes on in the toy box when kids aren’t around. It’s an easy to grasp concept and one that offers so many possibilities for visual gags and story potential. The Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) rivalry is played up so well that it’s a shame it’s not as heated in the sequels. Toy Story is a modern classic that is sure to delight and captivate audiences for generations to come.
Wall-E is a rather bold film when one considers its audience. The first act is absent of any dialogue as we explore a ruined earth with only a mute little robot to guide us. It’s thru director Andrew Stanton and the supremely talented animators at Pixar that we’re able to connect and care about this little robot. Wall-E, despite being a robot, is able to convey so many human emotions thru just the movement of his telescope-like eyes and limited vocalizations. The film’s only weakness is how effective these early scenes are in comparison to the easier to follow scenes in space where humans dwell. Some thumb their noses at the conservationist tone taken by the film, but I found it to be good satire and consider Wall-E a true treasure amongst american animation.
4. Toy Story 3
I can’t say I was all that excited for another sequel for Toy Story, even though I very much enjoyed the first two. I was so wrong when I finally sat down and watched Toy Story 3 and found myself completely blown away. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to see the world of these toys explored with better technology over what was available for the first two. The world popped and is an absolute feast for the eyes. That wasn’t exactly a surprise, but the fact that the film had a plot that appealed to me even more than the first two is what truly shocked me. I fell in love on the first viewing, and the additions of Michael Keaton and Ned Beatty to the all ready stellar cast was the cherry on top.
3. Monsters Inc.
We have officially entered the splitting hairs section of my list. 1-7 was hard, 1-5 was harder still, and 1-3 feels almost pointless. On any given day, any of these next three could be cited as my favorite from Pixar, but I’ve settled on this order for today. Monsters Inc. was the first of the Pixar feature-length films to not be directed by Lasseter. Pete Docter oversaw this one and would establish an ability to really make an emotional connection with the audience. Monsters Inc. is kind of like a buddy comedy with leads Mike and Sully (portrayed by Billy Crystal and John Goodman), only in a fantastic setting. The world of the monsters is fully realized and more than just a little clever. This is the first CGi film I can recall where so much hair, or fur, was included and the results are spectacular. It’s the addition of the Boo character though, that puts it over the top and gives it the weight I mentioned earlier. This film’s ending is so perfect, it gets me every time. I’m not sure if it’s not my favorite ending to any movie ever. I love it!
2. Finding Nemo
A lot of these films were all conceived around the same time. I get the sense that the powers that be at Pixar decided on a bunch of worlds they wanted to see animated and went off of that. Finding Nemo is Pixar’s undersea adventure and the results are breathtaking. The world is so simple yet so complex, it is probably the film that benefitted most in the switch from DVD to Blu Ray of any other I’ve seen. All of Pixar’s films are incredible looking, but Finding Nemo contains one of the more heart-warming father-son stories contained in any piece of entertainment. And outside of that plot, the characters encountered along the way are amongst Pixar’s most memorable. Whether it’s the possessive seagulls, laid-back Crush, or the unforgettable Dory, there’s something amazing in every scene. I’m so glad that Pixar has chosen to revisit this world, even if it has no chance of matching up to the original. Though Pixar has proved me wrong before.
If Wall-E was considered a bold move for a family movie, then what does that make Up with its octogenarian for a lead? I suppose the marketing and merchandising department was disappointed when it found out that Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) action figures weren’t likely to generate the kind of revenue Disney is used to, but I like to think they were okay with that once they saw the film. Up is a wonderful piece of animation, and if Pete Doctor’s previous directorial effort Monsters Inc. is considered weighty, Up is a virtual anvil. The montage that takes place at the beginning of the film which sums up the life of Carl and Ellie is wonderfully moving, and like Wall-E, done so without any dialogue. The sequence is masterfully done, and if viewers found it a bit too sad then I hope the rest of the film makes up for it. The main plot pairs up Carl with the youthfully exuberant Russell. This odd-couple pairing can be forgiven for being too obvious because it’s executed so well. The emotional response generated by this film seems so authentic, and it’s the rare animated film I can honestly recommend to viewers of all tastes. And then there’s Dug. Dug, who resembles no dog from the real world and yet makes me think of every dog I’ve ever met (any nice dog, anyways). His mannerisms and thoughts are so spot-on it makes it seem like an easy thing to so faithfully convey a dog’s emotions, but it’s really not. Up is absolutely wonderful, and not just among my favorites put out by Pixar or Disney, but one of my favorite movies of any I’ve seen. It will take a lot from Pixar to top it, but I hope they like a good challenge.